Shrove Tuesday (or Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, depending on your tradition) totally snuck up on me. I mean, it's been on the calendar for a couple weeks and I knew that I was going to help out making pancakes at church. But the day that it actually happened, I hadn't made any time to prepare myself for this celebration or the season that was to follow it.
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It was kind of the same thing with Ash Wednesday. I know some people who spend a week leading up to the season of Lent deciding what would be a fitting food or activity to give up for 40 days. But then there's me, who usually does a traditional fast for Ash Wednesday and then again for Good Friday, but I was struggling to figure out what the heck I would do for any fast of any kind this year. I mean, it's not that I wanted to do something different, but rather that I was teaching and I have made a commitment to provide the best instruction I can when I'm teaching. I know full well that a hard-core fast is too much for me; I would not be able to make it though the day and do what I need to do for my students. So in trying to figure out what I could fast from as a penitential act for Ash Wednesday, I just kind of stumbled into doing something.
But what I came to realize that this language of "stumbling" may be more pointed than I realized. See, this idea was presented on Shrove Tuesday in Pray As You Go. Jesus talked to his disciples about avoiding "the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod," but what I took from that is that there is a way that the world does things and there is a way that Jesus wants us to do things. So in that way, following Jesus through this time of Lent means that we will be actively taking a different route. And I mean a different route, even compared to the usual different route that Christianity offers. In terms of stumbling, the yeast of Pharisees and of Herod could cause us to stumble in our faith, but stumbling into an act of penitence could be seen as stumbling in the right direction.
That being said, I'm seeing Lent this year as an opportunity. Rather than getting stuck in the drudgery of day-to-day living, this can be a desert time. It is barren for a purpose; out here in the wilderness, we can come face to face with our limitations. We can come face to face with the fact that we are human and that we are mortal. That's really scary and, outside of church at this time of year, I don't have many conversations about those topics.
So we have a few topics here. One is the theme of unpreparedness that I feel has led off my Lenten season. but another theme has been this one of being real and rather than having everything together, I can make efforts simply to stumble in the right direction.
Just a couple more things before I close up this post:
- For Ash Wednesday, I decided to fast from personal technology... which really meant my mobile phone and social media. But as a result of that, I noticed that I was more attentive to the faces and demeanor of other drivers as I was commuting to work. And I was struck by the sense of impatience that I saw in all their faces. Many of them were texting as they drove, or simply fidgeting in their seat, as if they weren't able to make it to their destination fast enough. It made me wonder whether they felt relaxation or contemplation was a luxury, or maybe just unnecessary.
- Before Ash Wednesday and my technology fast, I listened to The Collect Call's episode for Ash Wednesday. They were talking about this idea of asking God for a "contrite heart," which when unpacked, seems a strange thing to ask. To be contrite, one must be crushed and broken. So in matters of the heart, being contrite means to be heartbroken. On Ash Wednesday, asking for broken heart might be much more profound than it may seem.
- Once I was paying attention to the words of the prayers in the Ash Wednesday liturgy, the theme of forgiveness started to stand out. We, being sinners, pray to be penitent. But the words also guide us to God's ready forgiveness of our sins. We obtain of God "perfect remission and forgiveness," we pray for "restoration for the Church," and to be "put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior." All this was moving because what I really saw was call, not to feel lousy about myself, but rather a call to recognize God's ready forgiveness of me and of all people. I think there was also a charge to me to remember that I need to forgive all others as God has forgiven me.
The last reflection I have from Ash Wednesday is less reverent. As the ashes were put on my forehead, the words that were whispered were "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return." But all that went through my head at that time was Albert Finney's voice from Big Fish, when he played an elderly Edward Bloom: "You're gonna die, kid."
And rather than worry me, that felt freeing. Because Lent is the desert time. It is the time to hold on to the memory that we will, each of us, die. But before that happens, I think we need to forgive.
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Have you been looking forward to the beginning of Lent, or has it snuck up on you, as it did me? Even though we've been through Lent before, are you still experiencing it anew this year? Please share your reflections in the comments below. Otherwise, you can join with me in conversation on Twitter or Facebook! Additionally, you can subscribe to my blog by email with the subscription bar in the navigation menu on the right-hand side of this page, and/or send me a friend request/follow me to make that social connection and participate in a deeper dialogue that way. Thanks!
P.S. Since we have officially begun Lent, it's time for Lent Madness! To learn more, just click on the widget in my right-hand navigation menu and you will be led into the midst of the madness!